Here at Alvis, we like to celebrate diversity in all aspects and walks of life. Each February, we recognize African American excellence in honor of Black History Month. Americans have now been commemorating black history for almost 100 years, beginning with “Negro History Week” in 1926. Negro History Week was created by Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-educated historian who hoped to raise awareness about the contributions of African Americans to society during a time of great prejudice. Woodson was the child of former slaves and his strong will allowed him to overcome adversity. He left Kentucky coal mines at age 20 to enroll in high school. He completed the high school curriculum in just two years and continued in school until he received his Ivy League Ph.D. Throughout his course of study, he became increasingly aware of the lack of African American experiences being detailed in history books. For the most part, the black community was ignored by historians and when African American history was included, it tended to reflect period society’s racially intolerant view that African Americans were somehow inherently inferior.
To combat this, Woodson ambitiously established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) in 1915 and made it his responsibility to write African Americans into his country’s history. The following year, he founded the Journal of Negro History. The publication came to be widely respected across the nation.
Though he was finding great success in his quest to educate and inform, Woodson wanted to continue making leaps for the African American community. In 1926, he and his organization announced Negro History Week. It was first celebrated in the second week of February which encompassed both Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays. The creation of the event was received so positively by the public that it began igniting social change all over the country. Black history clubs were formed, educators began demanding changes in curricula, and progressive whites publicly supported ASNLH’s efforts. They also encouraged their more conservative counterparts to do the same.
Over the following 20 years, Negro History Week became a widely celebrated event and was a touchstone for substantial progress in race relations in American culture. By the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, mayors across the nation were declaring their support for Negro History Week.
The 1960s brought the Black Awakening, which was pivotal in highlighting the importance of black history to all Americans, regardless of color during the transformative Civil Rights movement. Finally, in 1976, 50 years after the first “Negro History Week,” President Gerald Ford extended the celebration to span the full month of February. The President encouraged Americans to “Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” By this time, the vast majority of Americans understood the importance of black history and how integral it has been in the creation and telling of America’s true story. The ASNLH, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, has stayed true to its mission to educate the public about African American history 365 days a year.
For more famous factoids about rich history of African Americans in the United States, check out this article from History.com! Be sure to stay tuned all month long as we celebrate different examples of African American excellence in our Alvis community and across the nation. Up next week: a spotlight profile of Keith Stevens, Chair, Alvis Board of Trustees!
Alvis is a nonprofit human services agency with over 50 years of experience providing highly effective treatment programs in Ohio. Our vision is that communities value a person’s potential more than their past. For more information on how Alvis can help you or to learn more about how you can get involved, contact us here.
Blog post written by Marketing & PR Intern, Paige McKirahan